In a letter addressed to various news and media organisations, the Media Centre for National Security (MCNS) a body which operates under Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Defence, has demanded that “any news related to national security, security forces, and the police should get prior approval from the MCNS before dissemination”.
The letter is signed by MCNS Director-General Lakshman Hulugalle and dated March 9. It will apply to all news alerts issued through text and SMS over the phone network.
Emergency regulations in force for much of Sri Lanka’s quarter-century long civil war allowed for prior censorship of news platforms. Since the lifting of the state of emergency in August 2011, there no longer appears to be a clear legal sanction for censoring news flows.
The MCNS directive follows an incident in the north of the country in which three soldiers of the Sri Lankan army were killed. Rumours soon emerged, suggesting that the insurgent army that had waged a quarter-century long civil war against the Sri Lankan government was regrouping. These rumours were soon dispelled by an official statement clarifying that the incident involved a soldier of the Sri Lankan army who had shot two colleagues before turning the gun on himself.
There were also news alerts that were sent out at the same time regarding a police officer being arrested while demanding a large bribe, and a botched abduction attempt involving personnel of the armed forces.
Sri Lanka’s Free Media Movement (FMM), an IFJ affiliate, has warned that the MCNS directive could be the first step towards re-imposing a comprehensive regime of censorship over the media.
“We urge the Sri Lankan government to reconsider this move, which does little to rebuild an atmosphere of trust between the country’s ethnic communities after a quarter century of strife”, said the IFJ Asia-Pacific.
“The Sri Lankan government should also be aware that the world is waiting in anticipation for it to initiate long overdue gestures of reconciliation that would contribute towards a long-term peace in the island-nation”.
“Yet far from implementing the comprehensive recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) — a body appointed with a mandate from Sri Lanka’s President — the Government seems set upon a course of heightened confrontation”.
“We call on the Sri Lankan government to withdraw the latest moves towards censorship, and urge serious engagement with all representative bodies to see that the LLRC recommendations, which include significant measures on freedom of speech and the right to information, are implemented
Media release: Sri Lanka
March 14, 2012
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